Five years ago Sunday, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, SJ was killed. Fr. Frans, as he was known, was murdered in Homs, Syria which he made his home for almost 50 years. Fr. Frans, whose favorite word was “forward,” embodied the JRS mission of accompaniment which he lived out in community with people of all creeds during a time of particular suffering.
Fr. Frans, a trained psychotherapist, moved to Syria from the Netherlands in 1966. For many years he worked with the local community to foster interreligious dialogue and unity. “I don’t see Muslims or Christians. I see, above all, human beings,” said Fr. Frans. in the 1980s, he established an agricultural project – Al Ard – outside Homs where young people with mental health problems could find employment. Al Ard also served as a place for people with special needs and became a center for dialogue between people of different religions and walks of life.
Fr Frans was a friend, mentor, and inspiration for all who worked for JRS Syria, who serve internally displaced Syrians with health services, education, child protection, livelihood training, and emergency aid. JRS Syria knew Fr. Frans to be a simple, generous, and loving man.
When war broke out in 2011, Fr. Frans refused to leave the monastery he was then the Superior of and decided to remain in solidarity with the people of his city. He welcomed displaced people into the Jesuit residency inside the old city of Homs – providing them with shelter and sharing what little food supplies he had.
Fr. Frans’s legacy lives on at JRS. A community center just outside of Beruit, Lebanon, which provides formal and informal education to refugee children, youth, and adults, is named in his honor. The Frans van der Lugt Center is a place where students can heal from past trauma and are protected from risks associated with living through displacement as children, such as trafficking, child labor, and early marriage.
His legacy is also seen in our efforts to promote reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue.
We continue to be inspired by him and his tireless efforts to move forward and bring people of different faiths and backgrounds together. ”Fr. Frans is an inspiration to us all,” says Joan Rosenhauer, JRS/USA Executive Director. “Not only did he preach about love and reconciliation, but he also lived these values out every day.”
To honor him and legacy, the Jesuits in the Netherlands and Flanders have produced an animated film about him. The film is available in 9 languages, including English and Arabic.